Major Props

A photo essay.

“One lantern, one set of Erector pieces, three coat trees, 17 trunks, eight moving sewing machines, six stable sewing machines, three sewing machine heads, 1,000 pounds of books…”

Oh, and a pair of “umbrella trees.”

Those are nine of the 90-plus line items set designer Janie Alexander has on her prop list for A Broken Umbrella Theatre’s “Made of New Haven” event this Sunday, where food, drink and theater are on the menu. The “grassroots gala”—organizers encourage comers to “leave the tux at home,” and presumably the gown, too—is staging twice on the second floor of Erector Square’s fifth building, where these photos were taken mid-setup.

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Across 10 original shows in seven years, ABUT, a 30-member all-volunteer company, has made a name for itself by producing deeply creative plays inspired by New Haven history in the places where that history actually played out. It’s by far the most meta of New Haven’s many theater efforts, and this event kicks that impulse up another notch, because a performance that’s being staged mid-gala—I overheard some of the crew saying it’ll last about 45 minutes—is inspired by the history of A Broken Umbrella, which is also a piece of New Haven history, albeit a very recent one.

That’s why, for instance, Alexander has sewing machine parts on her prop list. Genuine artifacts, they’re being used to ping Freewheelers, a 2013 ABUT play staged in a former corset factory, which channeled women’s liberation via local, 19th-century, corset-shirking, bicycle-riding rebels. Another line item, a set of red umbrellas hanging like bats in one corner, were used for The Library Project (2012), a New Haven Free Public Library commission staged inside the Ives Main Library.

Other examples abound, but as far as A Broken Umbrella history is concerned, the most vintage of the props—and among the largest—are those umbrella trees. Towers of flower, they have big white umbrellas for tops, felty green chutes of fabric for stems and painted wood panels for pots. They and their show, A Short Story by a Tree, were mounted in Edgerton Park in 2009, amounting to ABUT’s very first New Haven production.

Even while recalling many past sets, and even while edging the gala’s main space with huge spotlit murals depicting promotional art from the company’s previous plays, Alexander says ABUT’s fans can rest assured that “Made of New Haven” is an original celebration, not a rehash. “We’re not retelling those stories,” she says. “We’re telling our story.”

“Made of New Haven”
a gala and performance to benefit A Broken Umbrella Theatre
Erector Square – 315 Peck St, Bldg 5, 2nd Fl, New Haven (map)
Sunday, 5/15, at 1pm and 5:30pm
$40 and up (or $35 for kids at the 1pm gala)
(203) 868-0428
www.abrokenumbrella.org/…

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories, helped in no small part by a small team of dedicated contributors.

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